If you are setting out on a long journey, whether in this country or abroad, it’s worth checking that your car is up to the journey and will get you there as safely as possible. A lot of garages will perform checks for you free of charge, obviously hoping that if anything is required you will use their services. Others may make a charge, but will do a thorough check includng brakes, windscreen etc.
Many modern cars will tell you some of these things via their onboard computer and will alert you accordingly. Things it won’t tell you include tyre tread and general condition of tyres. Also, levels may not be at the low alert level, but may not be too far off. It may be worth checking anyway if you are going a very long way.
- Oil level – check via dipstick or car information system
- Water level (in the radiator). These are generally a sealed system with an expansion tank, so you should be able to see this from the outside. Most modern cars will rarely need this, but if you have an older car it’s worth checking.
- Water/screenwash in windscreen bottle. In summertime it’s a good idea to get a screenwash with a decent level of detergent for clearing bug strikes.
- Tyre pressures – check using a pressure gauge or garage airline. Some cars have an internal gauge on the in-car information system. Tyre pressures can be found on the inside of the car door, the petrol cap flap, or in the manual. Bear in mind, if you are on a long trip with a fully loaded car, you may need to increase the tyre pressures according to the weight of the load. The manual should advise of this.
- Tyre tread – using a gauge, the legal minimum is 1.6mm but it’s a good idea to have extra because of the miles you are due to cover. Also check for condition – lumps, bumps, splits in the tyre wall (inside & outside, by turning the steering wheel to see the inner rim)
- Spare tyre – don’t forget to check the condition of this too!
- Windscreen wipers – check that they are not badly worn. you can do this by inspection and just using them!
- It’s a good idea to take some spare things with you. Spare bulbs, warning triangle (these are compulsory in most European countries), torch. In-car charger for mobile phone in case of emergency. High visibility jackets are also compulsory in France, and have to be kept in an accessible place (without getting out of the vehicle)
- Insurance – check that your insurance covers the type of driving you will be doing. If you are going outside the UK, you need as a minimum a ‘green card’ from your insurance company. This only provides the minimum insurance level legally required in the country to which you are travelling. If you want the same level of cover abroad as in the UK, you have to get a foreign use extension from your insurance company. This is usually at extra cost.
- Breakdown cover – breaking down or having an accident abroad can be very expensive if you haven’t got international breakdown cover. If your car is still under warranty, it may have this cover as part of the warranty. UK breakdown cover will likely be covered by any car warranty, or can be bought from a motoring organsiation or insurance company.
- Car identification – if travelling abroad, the car needs to be identified as from Britain, either by a sticker or sign on the car number plate. Don’t assume this will automatically be on your number plate, many don’t have it so do check!
- Headlights – if driving on the opposite side of the road, beam converters are required. Buy them in the UK (from Ebay) as they are a lot cheaper than at ports or on the continent.
- If your car has been making suspicious noises or has had little struggles for a while, get it looked at. Sod’s law, this little problem will turn into a big problem when you are in the middle of nowhere!
- Similarly, if your car is almost due a service, get it done early. It will give you peace of mind, and potentially save a lot of trouble!
- It may sound obvious, but make sure you have enough fuel. Don’t take it to the wire. The last thing you want is to run out of fuel because you were stuck in a traffic jam or had to be diverted. It’s one of the biggest causes of a breakdown.
Drive safely, everyone. Bon Voyages!
Oh, and if you want some tried and tested tips for keeping the kids entertained on your road trip, here they are…
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